2022 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Robert Nason, McGill University, Desautels Faculty of Management

Robert Nason

McGill University, Desautels Faculty of Management

“Rob teaches Organizational Strategy and, honestly, it’s the type of class that justifies getting an MBA. Our class readings are from the Times and The Atlantic, not 30-year old textbooks. Our discussions center around podcasts and memo releases from CEOs. He is constantly pushing us to frame our thinking with different perspectives, to be innovative and to actively contribute in class, understanding that classroom learning is optimized only through genuine participation. Rob’s unique, real-world, interactive approach to teaching ensures that our management fundamentals will be relevant and useful the day we leave class. And he’s doing it in a way that makes you feel prepared and excited to get started.” – Jason Bertram

Robert Nason, 38, is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Organization and William Dawson Scholar at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. He is also Area Coordinator for Strategy and Organization and will soon take over as Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Nason’s research considers the role of entrepreneurship in society covering areas of family business, behavioral strategy, growth, and the informal economy. His current research initiatives are particularly focused on entrepreneurship and economic inequality – examining entrepreneurial activity in contexts of poverty and wealth. He won the Academy of Management Entrepreneurship Division’s Emerging Scholar Award in 2020 and previously served as associate professor and Concordia University Research Chair of Entrepreneurship and Society at the John Molson School of Business.

His research has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Société et la Culture (FRQ-SC). His work has been published in leading academic outlets such as Academy of Management ReviewStrategic Management JournalJournal of Management, Journal of Business Venturing, and Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice. Robert has served as an Editor for Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice and is on the Editorial Board of Journal of Management and Journal of Business Venturing. 

BACKGROUND

At current institution since what year?  2020

Education: 

  • PhD, Syracuse University. Syracuse, NY. 2014
  • MBA, Babson College. Wellesley, MA. 2010
  • BA, Wheaton College. Wheaton, IL. 2006

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Organizational Strategy (Core Strategy Course in the MBA program)

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I didn’t know anything about the strange world of business academia (I studied International Relations and German) until I had to take a year off of university to pay for my expensive American education. I happened to get a job with a high school friend’s father who was a professor at Babson College at that time. The year culminated with the launch of a research project with a symposium at Bocconi in Milan. It was an appealing scene and I met such a great community of business school scholars that I knew I wanted to become a part of. 

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? One major project is focused on studying entrepreneurial activity in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa. I’m amazed by the resilience and creativity of entrepreneurs there – and in fact many are intuitively using approaches to innovation that we now teach in business schools – minimize upfront costs, fail fast, pivot to adapt to a changing environment. You see a lot of minimum viable products by necessity and the ingenuity is really impressive.

If I weren’t a business school professor… Ideally, an investigative journalist. Realistically, probably a lawyer.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I try to bring some energy

One word that describes my first time teaching: Insecure

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Focus on things that are important and meaningful to you, not just what you think you should research or teach. 

Professor I most admire and why: Ana Maria Peredo.She is a pioneer in studying entrepreneurship in contexts of poverty. I love how her writing has an unapologetic point of view advocating for the marginalized and oppressed. The language that she uses is strong and beautiful. She shows how research can be an instrument for social change–the world needs more activist scholars like her.

TEACHING MBA STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I get a lot of energy from it and It helps me stay relevant. I learn so much from what students bring into the classroom – whether it be their own work experience or just whatever new trends and things that they are into. 

What is most challenging? We all have a lot of embedded assumptions about how business is supposed to operate, but there is a real need to rethink many of these. It is tough work though — I try to push students to scrutinize assumptions and be broadly reflective about the environment, organizational goals, and the potential consequences of the strategies that they recommended. 

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Thoughtful

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Smart Aleck

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Pretty tough, but generous with feedback

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies? Soccer and basketball are my favorite escape and only exercise. As so many, I fall into the cliché of loving to travel. I’ve also been doing some more baking recently – I have no culinary intuition, but I’m reasonably good at following directions which seems to be the most important thing in baking. 

How will you spend your summer? Being anxious about how little research I am getting done as usual. I also have a newborn son (and a five year old), so we won’t be travelling too far this summer. I’m predicting a lot of swimming and copious amounts of ice cream. 

Favorite place(s) to vacation: There is a small cabin by the border of New York and Pennsylvania that my great grandfather built that has a special place in my heart. 

Favorite book(s): This is pretty embarrassing to admit this as I like to think of myself as a cultured person, but I’ve finally accepted that I essentially don’t enjoy reading books for pleasure. I read so much for work that it is just not relaxing to me. 

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? My wife and I recently binged all of Curb your Enthusiasm. The combination of relatability and total absurdity is pretty great. 

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Oh man, I listen to Spotify all day every day while working so this could be a long answer. This year I’ve listened to a lot of progressive soul and hip hop—especially Madvillain and Philly’s finest the Roots (who were my first concert). Besides the danceable beats that get me amped up to write, I appreciate the lyrical creativity and social activism in many of the songs.  

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… It would be a lot more interdisciplinary. I strongly believe that we need to expand the influences on the business school and to have richer relationships across all areas in the university – arts, sciences, and humanities. That is one thing that is great about the MBA — you often have students with very diverse backgrounds who bring these perspectives into the classroom. Especially in entrepreneurship, we need greater connection to artists who want to be self-employed and scientists who develop an amazing invention but have no idea how to commercialize it. This is how the business school can add value to other areas of the University and will be much better off for it itself. 

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Owning their role in society. We have to stop pretending that business is some kind of separate sphere from politics or social life. Organizations are embedded within society – their actions shape society and society shapes them. You see a lot of organizations today who are now being forced to grapple with societal issues that they once considered to be outside of the corporate domain – not only environmentalism, but also racism, misogyny, and inequality. Organizations need to realize that even though they didn’t talk about these issues in the board room, they have long been complicit in them and need to own their role in designing solutions to address them.  

I’m grateful for… So much! In my work though I’m incredibly grateful for the many mentors who introduced me to business academia and have helped me develop along the way. 

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE 2022 ROSTER OF THE WORD’S BEST 40-UNDER-40 MBA PROFESSORS

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